Tips To Improve Your Conference Presentation Slide Deck

This post originally appears on the Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Association’s blog. Since I know a lot of you don’t work in financial aid and likely would never come across it, I’ve posted it here.

Please add your tips to improve conference presentations slides in the comments.
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Silhouette In Front Of ScreenIt’s very rare to find a training or conference session that does not include a slide deck. I’d argue that it’s also very rare for any of these slide decks to stray from the ubiquitous PowerPoint template and bullet point structure that has dominated lecture halls and professional conferences for more than a decade. Some presenters are moving towards alternate presentation tools, like Prezi or Glogster. I don’t think PowerPoint is dead – but I do think we need to reconsider how we’re building our slide decks.

Don’t Open PowerPoint First

The first step to creating an interesting, engaging slide deck is to learn to let the presentation guide the slide deck, rather than the other way around. Many of us are guilty of opening up PowerPoint as the starting point for creating a presentation or training. If you want to be an engaging presenter, it’s important to develop the outline of your talk before you even think about your slide deck. What are the key points you want to cover? Do you have learning outcomes? What is your call to action? Do disconnected points need a smooth transition? Do you have any stories or anecdotes that would help attendees remember your points? I’d suggest working through all of these questions on a notepad, a Word document, or on an office white board to develop an outline before you start to create a slide deck.

Search Your Outline for Visual Opportunities

Once you have developed an outline for your presentation, you can determine what parts would be enhanced with visual content. It’s quite possible that every bullet point in your outline won’t require a slide. Instead of just transferring your outline into bullet points on a slide deck, think of complimentary images, key words or phrases that you want the audience to remember.

Find Useable Images

When you know what visuals you are looking for, find an image that you have permission to use. A simple Google image search will net you a lot of results, but those are likely to be copyrighted for other uses. You can search Flickr for images that have a creative commons license for reuse, or use free or purchased stock images from a variety of website (like iStockPhotoStock Vault, or Stock Free Images). Be sure to download high-quality images so they’re not pixelated on the projector screen.

Build a Slide Deck That Supports Your Message

Finally, pull these related images and key words/phrases into a sequential slide deck that supports the message of your presentation. Try to limit bullet points, small text, or anything that requires you to read from the screen while presenting. This is harder than it sounds, because it requires you to know your content backwards and forwards, and that often involves rehearsing a couple of times.

Review and Rehearse

I like to create slide deck and then review it and write everything I would say during the presentation in the notes portion of the slide. I would never print these and read them during my presentation, but it can help me get a feel for the flow of the presentation and start to gather my thoughts. Often, during this process I realize I need more (or fewer) slides to support my point. Once I’ve finalized the slide deck, I can then read through the notes pages a few times before presenting. Whenever possible, I also like to rehearse in front of a critical audience to get feedback before giving my presentation in a formal setting.

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about creating outside-the-box slide decks, check out this April 2013 episode of Student Affairs Live (Building Innovative Slidedecks). If you’re thinking about moving beyond the use of a PowerPoint for your next presentation, check out this amazing talk that my friend TJ Logan gave at the ACUHOI Annual Conference this summer. Because of his innovative presentation style, he was able to present the talk on YouTube for other professionals to view after the conference.

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